The Sicilian Defense
THE PLAYER - Enrique Y. Gonzalez () - May 23, 2010 - 12:00am

I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse. — Don Corleone

The Sicilian Defense was first mentioned in a manuscript by Giulio Polerio in 1594. In chess, it involves using a black pawn to aggressively respond to the first move of an advancing white center pawn. Statistically, the famed Sicilian Defense is the best response when you are playing black and do not have the advantage of having the first move.

There have been countless analyses of why the move works — from countering the advance of other center pawns, to dominating half of the center, which may lead to a successful pawn, swap, to further advance towards enemy lines.

Ultimately, I believe that the Sicilian Defense works simply because of its aggressive nature. If you come out with guns blazing in a battle, winning is fair game. As the saying goes “the best defense is a good offense.”

This sage advice did not fall on deaf ears when Sicilian immigrants moved to the United States in the 1900s where some quickly took over racketeering jobs that formed the foundations of what is now a multibillion-dollar organized crime syndicate.

This “American Dream” was perfectly epitomized in the Oscar-winning film of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This is easily one of my top five favorite movies of all time, given that I have taken a shine to most movies involving organized crime. The film is considered a masterpiece, continuously revealing something new every time you watch it. Every move or thought matters in Coppola’s film, just like a game of chess.

It is therefore no wonder that the release of “The Godfather: The Don’s Edition” two years ago on PlayStation 3 (PS3) was a highly anticipated title for both young and old gamers alike. It is has even earned a cameo on HBO’s Entourage as the favorite game of Johnny Drama. It further validates the enduring universal appeal of the Godfather trilogy. Although the globally renowned Godfather franchise provides a readily available market for the game, the risks of using a well-known and much-loved script normally revolves around the actual game not being able to live up to the lofty expectations of its fan base. Remember Star Wars (the game)? Who could have thought that a sci-fi masterpiece reinterpreted for digital gaming would be a dud? Gamers quickly realized that there was a disappointing difference between watching a Jedi knight and actually being one in a mediocre game on the console.

 “The Godfather: The Don’s Edition” is a bloodthirsty, satisfying, full-length feature game that remains true to the movie. The game has CG-recreated scenes from the movie, multi-tiered missions (quests), lots of skill and weapon accumulation that enhance game-play as one progresses, yet it’s free-wheeling enough to have a Grand Theft Auto (GTA)-like role-playing feel to it. One of the cooler unlocked skills is the ability to have unlimited ammo. Being trigger-happy myself, it only made all those missions that much more enjoyable. Try full-auto on the unlimited ammo clip of the Tommy Gun onto unsuspecting members of rival mob families. Like GTA, you can jack any ride you see on the street, run over fire hydrants (as well as defacing parts of the city), get into street fights and unload a fully automatic clip within an extremely immersive virtual world. Imagine a fully MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) version.

You start the game as a low-level enforcer working with the Corleone family. This is basically collecting protection money (or tong as it’s called in the Philippines) from merchants. You do this by entering merchant establishments and talking to the proprietors. Most won’t agree so you convince them through intimidation, or use of force. Some merchants will readily pay up if you do them a favor. Some of these favors can involve “offing” a drug dealer in the car park that scares away customers or scaring off enforcers of other mob-families. You receive weekly payouts from each merchant that falls into your part of the Corleone racketeering network. As you broaden your base of merchants across the five boroughs of New York, you move up in rank within the organization (I reached mob boss after my fifth day of playing; what does that say about me?), you build up your war chest. As your rank changes so does your look. Like any Mafioso on the rise, you can use the money to buy new threads, weapons and gear. Looking like the boss is part of the job.

The usual fare includes taking down a corrupt police captain that has wronged the Corleone family (adapted from Godfather 1) or taking over competing mob family establishments such as safe houses and hotels/motels. One of the more challenging missions involves taking down the Barzini or Tattaglia family mansions filled with a small army of gunmen. You can creatively use transport (car, truck, van) to break into barricaded areas and gates. The cars explode after withstanding sufficient gunfire, which causes an explosion that can level a cluster of enemy hit men. I once lined up five cars at the periphery of an enemy area before proceeding to use each one to level each barricade until all sentinel guards had been obliterated.

The end game or ultimate objective is to become “Don of New York City.” It is a “Eureka!” moment when you reach the top of the food chain. There is a sense of satisfaction in reaching the finish line after having invested tens of hours leveling your way up through the game and completing all the various missions. Although it’s an oldie (but a goody) by gaming standards, I have to say this game inspires megalomaniacal thoughts of immortalizing oneself in one of the most highly lauded movies of all time. Perhaps we all wish to be a Don Corleone, but a bit Johnny Drama as well.

The public’s infatuation with mob culture and organized crime is deeply rooted in our inherent human interest in the dark underbelly of society. This dark underground subculture is part of the chaotic balance of world order as we know it. It is the same relationship and delicate coexistence as good and evil, light and dark, yin and yang.

Personally, I’ve always been an avid fan of the anti-hero. Perhaps this is why I closely emphasize with the likes of Niko Belic, the Corleones and Anakin Skywalker. There is something romantic and noble about the struggle between good and evil, life and death. These struggles and conflicts are best dramatized in our contemporary world through the imaginary struggles of the mafia and mob bosses such as Vito Corleone, and later Michael Corleone.

There is the memorable scene in Godfather III when Mob boss Michael Corleone tells his daughter, “I would burn in hell to keep you safe.” People have to realize the while there is a separation in career choices between law-abiding citizens and the mafia, often times there exist strong “family values” — word of honor, respect for tradition — in the organized crime world (particularly the mafia). It may seem ironic, but it holds true even in the real world. Can errant men with virtues truly exist? It is a truly intriguing idea.

Video games have always been a healthy and entertaining way of living out such lives vicariously. To amplify your

“Godfather” experience, try a recipe from the “Mafia Cookbook”: Sit back, chow down on those meatballs and load the tommy gun for your next mission.

* * *

What kind of Mob Boss are you? E-mail me at egtheplayer@gmail.com.

CORLEONE CORLEONES AND ANAKIN SKYWALKER DON CORLEONE GAME GODFATHER MICHAEL CORLEONE MOB SICILIAN DEFENSE
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